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September 14, 2004

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I was all set to go see the exhibit in person, but then I saw that it closed in September 2002. Next time, I guess.

In any event, it was interesting to see that the exhibit curators used a definition of "Arab" to include all people from Arabic-speaking countries, regardless of ethnic origin or religion. The sizable Syrian Jewish community of New York is specifically included in the exhibit's coverage. I've occasionally mentioned that some Iraqi Jews regard themselves as Arabs, and wondered what this says about the boundaries of Arab and Jewish identity:

http://headheeb.blogmosis.com/archives/019749.html

http://headheeb.blogmosis.com/archives/022703.html

and I've also noted some crossing of boundaries from the other side (e.g., the Egyptian government's classification of Maimonides as an Arab scholar). Is this inclusive, language-based definition common among Arab-Americans, or is it more usual to define "Arab" as an ethnic marker?

Jonathan said:

"In any event, it was interesting to see that the exhibit curators used a definition of "Arab" to include all people from Arabic-speaking countries, regardless of ethnic origin or religion. The sizable Syrian Jewish community of New York is specifically included in the exhibit's coverage."

Jonathan - this is the view I was raised with, but consider the source. The curators must be influenced by the ideas of Arab nationalism or Arabism - As'ad Abu-Khalil has referred me to his Historical Dictionary of Lebanon for explications of this, and Joshua Landis at Syria Comment is arguing back and forth about it with Tony Badran right now.

What I grew up hearing in my Christian Lebanese, Arab nationalist family, is that an Arab is anyone from an Arabic-speaking country speaks Arabic. I was specifically told that Jews from Arab countries are therefore both Arabs and Jews.

Do all Arab Jews agree with this identification? No. Do all Arabs agree with it? No. See Tony Badran and any number of Lebanese Christians who consider themselves Not Arabs.

So yes, Moses Maimonides the Rambam is very definitely an Arab in the view of Arab nationalists. He was a Jew from Cairo so he is considered an Arab scholar. I was just thinking today that while I'm perfectly happy to go to Mount Zion hospital in San Francisco, it would be so cool if there were a Maimonides hospital for me to go to instead.

Is this "inclusive, language based definition common among Arab-Americans" you ask? All I can say is to paraphrase: Three Arabs, five opinions. The Arab-American community is still debating among itself who gets to call themselves Arab-American, much less who is an Arab. Many of the Lebanese have been trying to blend into Greeks or Italians for generations. Second and third generation folks who are very assimilated are struggling to be heard. Yemeni grocers look at me and say - you can't be an Arab!

Again, if you find such an inclusive, language-based definition, you can assume that the person is influenced by "Arabism" or Arab nationalist ideas.

When I get my hands on Dr. Abu-khalil's dictionary I will have more information on the history of this movement. The right wing here and in Israel wants to create a meme that Arab nationalism is fascist, Nazi-tainted and racist...the example of including Jewish Arabs is one reason why I have a hard time accepting such a reductionist view.

_The right wing here and in Israel wants to create a meme that Arab nationalism is fascist, Nazi-tainted and racist..._

It seems pretty ridiculous to make a blanket judgment of all Arab nationalism, just as it would be to make a similar judgment of all Jewish nationalism. The idea of Arab nationalism - i.e., that Arabs are a nation united by a common language, culture, etc. - is entirely unobjectionable. As with Jewish nationalism, however, there are currents within Arab nationalism that are exclusionary and repressive. Any kind of nationalism can easily cross the line into chauvinism, and any liberal nationalist (for instance, me) must guard first and foremost against the repressive forces within his own nationalism.

In response to the recent "Arrival Day" post, which included the following:
Arab Americans need to learn this history. In the late 20th and early 21st century, Jewish Americans look like a privileged class to those of us more recently arrived; Jewish culture is lauded in film, print, music, art and institutions; Jewish names appear in the highest ranks of government, finance, and intellectual life. But Jews in America were persecuted, shunned, ghettoized and insulted from their earliest days until sometime after the Second World War.

Dear Leila,
I had to respond to the above from your blog. It seems more than strange to me that you characterize Jews in America as persecuted *only* until sometime after the second World War. This is like saying African Americans were discriminated against until sometime in the sixties. So many varieties of persecution and ghettoization and discrimination are still going on--against Jews, African Americans, Moslems, Arabs, women, Latinos, gays, etc. etc. etc. It is certainly different growing up and living in America as a Jew vs. a non-Jew, experiencing the discrimination firsthand; but I'm surprised and perplexed that you, a very savvy, aware and perceptive being, could be unaware of this ongoing xenophobia. Much as is the case for women, blacks, Latinos, and so many other groups, Jewish names appear in the *next*-to-highest ranks; the glass ceiling gets higher, but no less impermeable. Privileged class?? That reminds me of the ancient joke: We're the chosen people, right, but chosen for what? Millennia of hatred?

The reason I bring up the above passage is that while I know this was not your intention nor your belief, it seems dangerously close to the wave of anti-Jewish sentiment which is currently building, both here and abroad. Some of those who imagine Jews are a "privil

In response to the recent "Arrival Day" post, which included the following:
Arab Americans need to learn this history. In the late 20th and early 21st century, Jewish Americans look like a privileged class to those of us more recently arrived; Jewish culture is lauded in film, print, music, art and institutions; Jewish names appear in the highest ranks of government, finance, and intellectual life. But Jews in America were persecuted, shunned, ghettoized and insulted from their earliest days until sometime after the Second World War.

Dear Leila,
I had to respond to the above from your blog. It seems more than strange to me that you characterize Jews in America as persecuted *only* until sometime after the second World War. This is like saying African Americans were discriminated against until sometime in the sixties. So many varieties of persecution and ghettoization and discrimination are still going on--against Jews, African Americans, Moslems, Arabs, women, Latinos, gays, etc. etc. etc. It is certainly different growing up and living in America as a Jew vs. a non-Jew, experiencing the discrimination firsthand; but I'm surprised and perplexed that you, a very savvy, aware and perceptive being, could be unaware of this ongoing xenophobia. Much as is the case for women, blacks, Latinos, and so many other groups, Jewish names appear in the *next*-to-highest ranks; the glass ceiling gets higher, but no less impermeable. Privileged class?? That reminds me of the ancient joke: We're the chosen people, right, but chosen for what? Millennia of hatred?

The reason I bring up the above passage is that while I know this was not your intention nor your belief, it seems dangerously close to the wave of anti-Jewish sentiment which is currently building, both here and abroad. Some of those who imagine Jews are a "privileged class" go even further and also imagine that "the Jews," a supposedly cohesive group or cabal, are in control of certain arenas, particularly finance, and must be fought against/suppressed/removed from their power. Many sentient beings with IQs well above room temperature are reported to believe that "the Jews" were the only group who benefitted from 9/11, and therefore must have been responsible for it. So it scares me that you are voicing this mildest edge of what to me is clearly a misapprehension of the position of Jews in America today. If even that much is taken as a given, it's that much easier to progress, or rather devolve, to the grimmer depths.

Okay, all that said, I do think that Jews have *sometimes* had a *somewhat* easier time than other targetted groups, perhaps because it's easier to pass than it is for women (!), blacks, Arab Americans (pretty close), Asians, anyone with an accent like Latinos, etc.; and I can easily imagine that some of these other groups would resent Jews for that reason.

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